Karnataka gives Lingayats separate religious status, splits community; Siddaramaiah risks blowback ahead of polls

Bengaluru: Karnataka government on Monday recognised Lingayats as a separate religious minority and accepted the recommendation of a committee under the state Minorities Commission Act. The proposal will be sent to Centre for final approval.

Lingayat seers during their meeting with Siddaramaiah on Sunday. CNN-News18

Lingayat seers during their meeting with Siddaramaiah on Sunday. CNN-News18

In what it claimed was a unanimous decision, the cabinet also allowed Veerashaivas — or whoever agreed to follow social reformer Basavanna’s ideals — to be considered Lingayats.

Lingayats follow Basavanna, a 12th Century reformer, and have been demanding the status of a separate religion. In the political sphere, this demand was led by Congress ministers MB Patil, Basavaraj Rayareddy and Vinay Kulkarni, while their cabinet colleagues Eshwar Khandre and SS Mallikarjun opposed it.

Water Resources minister Patil, who led the movement to secure a separate religion tag for Lingayats, thanked Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, saying: “The government has righted a historic wrong.”

Kulkarni, Minister for Mines and Geology, was equally elated: “For many centuries, there has been a fight. In 1881, the then Mysore government removed the separate religion status for Lingayats. The state government has restored it.”

We will not lose because of this: BJP

The Karnataka cabinet, which was to deliberate on this issue last week, deferred it to Monday.

Following a four-hour marathon session, Law Minister TB Jayachandra told media persons the state government decided to accept recommendations of a committee led by Justice (retd) Nagamohan Das which advocated religious minority tag for Lingayats. He even said that those Veerashaivas who follow Basavanna’s ideals could be given religious minority status under Section 2(d) of Karnataka Minorities Act.

Jayachandra recommended that Lingayats could be given the status of separate linguistic minority as well under Section 2C of the National Commission for Minorities (Amendment) Act, 1995. Veerashaivas do not usually follow Basavanna’s ideals and the influential community heads had requested Siddaramaiah not to “break up the community for votes”.

“Everyone knows that this is a political game ahead of election by Siddaramaiah. According to experts that we have consulted, it will not be recognised. Congress is diving the society by such moves. BJP has already announced BS Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat leader, as its chief ministerial candidate. So, why would the community’s vote go to others? We will not lose because of this,” BJP state vice-president M Nagaraj said.

Lingayats are an influential community whose support could make or break a party. In past Assembly polls, whenever Lingayats, who constitute anywhere between 11 to 19 percent of the state population, choose a political party, that party normally rides to power. A controversial religious census, however, conducted by the Congress government two years ago and which was expected to be released in the run up to state elections, put the Lingayat population at below 10 percent.

Hasty decision by Congress?

Harish Ramaswamy, political analyst and professor at Karnataka University, Dharwad, believes the Congress has taken a hasty decision.

“They should have weighed the consequences in absence of clear statistics with respect to Veerashaivas and Lingayats. Their decision to put the ball in Centre’s court while telling Lingayats that state has rewarded them with what they had asked for is a game that these people (Congress) are playing,” he said, adding, “Perhaps, this is not going to be very favourable to Congress.”

Ramaswamy said the Congress thinks they can challenge the leadership of former chief minister Yeddyurappa with this move. “But, we don’t know how this will play out,” he concluded.

For many years now, the Lingayats have backed BJP’s BS Yeddyurappa, a Lingayat himself, who was the state’s first BJP chief minister, and is now the party president while Karnataka gears up for polls in May.

Reacting to the development, Rambhapuri Mutt pontiff Someshwara Mahaswami denounced state government’s move as a “huge mistake”, saying that Veerashaivas and Lingayats were the same.

“This is wrong. Veerashaivism came first and Basavanna came later. He did not establish the religion. This is a diabolical plan by the state government which people will not accept. The chief minister has not taken the right decision. Veerashaivism has guru parampare (tradition of spiritual masters) while Basavanna is only a social reformer,” the seer said.

He went on to say that it is very difficult to differentiate Hinduism from Veerashaiva-Lingayats.

“The Centre will not give in to this kind of chauvinism. The state government is breaking us with its politics. It is not easy to differentiate this religion from Hinduism,” he stressed. But cabinet minister Kulkarni begged to differ: “If people do not agree with Basavanna, how can they be called Lingayats?” he questioned, referring to Veerashaivas.

There are enough hints that the issue would snowball into a major controversy as a special sabha called by the community leaders — known as Panchapeeta or the five seats of power — denounced the state’s stand.

Anil Lulla is a Bengaluru-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters. With inputs from Prabhu Mallikarjunan

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Updated Date: Mar 19, 2018 19:30:24 IST

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